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Wynn Wynn’s designs land in WWD, Asia book

/ 07:02 AM July 01, 2011

Baby boomers are rewriting the rules on midlife transition.  They’re hewing a new phase of work that holds greater significance, albeit a vocation that’s way beyond themselves.

This has been the case with Wynn Wynn Ong, who made a transition from educator to jewelry designer.

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Ten years ago, she crafted cuffs, rings and brooches from wire cuffs, encrusted with her accumulation of semiprecious stones.  Manila had never seen anything like it. Many aspiring jewelry craftsmen copied the look.

Today, Ong has gained international fame for her painstakingly handcrafted jewelry.  She is the only designer from the Philippines featured in “Hidden Gems of Asia,” published by Haven Books. She has re-branded into Wynn Wynn Ong Artisanal Works.

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Aside from innovations and refinement of knowledge, her business is a form of social entrepreneurship. Some of her staffers are from Pangarap Foundation and once-unemployed but skilled workers.

Now that Ong is 54, her designs are more complex, requiring hundreds of man-hours to produce a piece of jewelry.

Her debut collection for Univers Homme et Femme at One Rockwell reveals the sophistication of her creative process.

Her sea collection is singular and difficult to imitate.  The radial ridges of the coral minaudiere and the radiating symmetry of the sand dollar pendants are exquisitely pierced by hand.

The tiny cellular network of the phytoplankton is magnified a thousand times for a cuff.

A ring resembles a shell on the beach after a typhoon.

A National Geographic photo of the endangered frog fish is fashioned into a silver minaudiere, with its eyes made of tourmaline.

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The globular shape of the sea urchin and flutes of the scallop, the feelers of the brittle starfish are faithfully reproduced in sustainable and recyclable materials.

“Look at all the work that goes into it, all done by hand,” says Ong. “We make our own hardware and clasps.”

The coral minaudieres are made of resin, fiberglass and pulp with a faux coral branch as the clasp.  The sand dollar, scallop, sea urchin pendants are manually cast, using recycled brass and silver. Instead of killing a stingray, the texture of its skin is interpreted in silver.

“Maturity makes you more conscious of your actions and decisions, even the things you use,” she says. “I was never an impulsive person… But I’ve learned to temper my desire to do things quickly, as I’m spontaneous.”

<strong>More coherent</strong>

She explains that as she grows older, she has become more deliberate. “In the beginning, it was the shotgun approach,” she says. “I got so excited that there were five things going on. What happens there is diffusion. Now my work is more concentrated, therefore, greater clarity. This is a cohesive collection of sea life through jeweled forms.”

She recalls that at the start, the materials would be strewn on her bed and they would be sewn together through holes. Over time, she studied goldsmithing and metal-working, and set up her own studio.

The sea collection took a year in the making, as she experimented with the malleability and durability of resin and fiberglass. The pieces also undergo a nine-step process of casting in molds, cleaning, assembling, soldering and sculpting.

Ong also employs repoussé, an ancient form of metallurgy wherein the metal is shaped to create a relief without wasting any materials.

<strong>Detailed, intricate</strong>

“My jewelry has become extremely detailed,” she says. “It is a marriage of form and function. I’ve become adept in form and technique. When I didn’t know that much, ignorance was bliss because I risked everything.  Now, because I know much more, I’m willing to risk more.

“If it takes 210 man-hours to make one piece, I would produce 15 or 20 pieces. This is artisan work. People who buy are collectors who understand the work that’s done. They have a highly acquired sense of taste.”   For Univers Homme et Femme, Ong’s collection is European, edgy and minimalist in aesthetic. The colors are muted like gray, black and nude. “It’s for the woman who is very sure of herself and her identity.”

She explains she will “try other techniques in metallurgy that other people don’t venture [in].”

“I’m also more conscious of trying to use things more sustainable,” she adds. “Becoming a grandparent has a lot to do with that. You think about the lives your grandchildren will lead. I’m also continuously researching. I try to incorporate species that are dying, extinct or newly discovered into the design. I am conscious of the carbon footprint that we leave. We don’t strip metal. We use recycled silver, gold brass or crafts metal.”

Ong also says she uses less wood and favors renewable coco and local robles woods.

<strong>Perpetual theme</strong>

Nature has been a perpetual theme in her collections.  A bravura piece is a cuff mimicking the staghorn ferns that overlap each other that embrace the wrist and hide the clasps.

Her Nauty Boy evening bag landed on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily (WWD). It was made from a polished nautilus shell, which ingeniously revealed some 600 gleaming natural pearls inside.

“Hidden Gems of Asia” raved over the intricate detail of the nautilus shell: “… 35.2 carats of Brazilian tourmalines cleverly add texture, and the body and tentacles are painstakingly sculpted in burnished and gold-plated metal. The large, doleful eyes are made of hand-cut smoky quartz, weighing in at 23.5 carats.”

The Stella the Spider, a vermeil, 24k gold cuff that mimicked the roughness of a termite-eaten tree bark, topped by a lifelike spider, shared the spotlight in WWD.

Her home in Anilao, touted as one of the world’s most biodiverse sites, has been her inspiration for her Univers collection.  Ong says it’s a natural segue from just watching marine life, to protecting it, to celebrating its beauty through creation without taking anything from the environment.

“We celebrate in a harmless and green way by using resin, pulp and fiberglass,” she maintains.

“Real luxury is when it’s not in your face,” Ong declares.

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TAGS: Anilao, Haven Books, Hidden Gems of Asia, jewelry designer, minaudieres, National Geographic, Pangarap Foundation, Tourism, Univers Homme et Femme, Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), Wynn Wynn Ong
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